Quote of the day

January 26, 2010

“If you’d stepped aboard a Japanese subway train 15 years ago, you’d have witnessed passengers engrossed in hefty, telephone directory–thick manga comic books. Today, you are more likely to see commuters of all ages peering intently into their cellphone screens, reading the same tales of comic heroes, romance, and sleaze— only this time carried in mobile digital libraries that have made Japan a forerunner in the burgeoning e-book–for–phone industry.”

— From “Comics Drive Growing Japanese E-Book Market” by Michael Fitzpatrick in Publishers Weekly Comics Week.

“Sleaze”? Seriously?

Upcoming 1/27/2010

January 26, 2010

Beyond offering some enjoyable and promising material, this week’s ComicList gives me the opportunity to review a couple of likeable titles that I received from the publishers.

Remember how the producers of Saturday Night Live used to try and turn characters that worked in five-minute sketches into the stars of full-length movies and how rarely that worked? That could have been the fate of Afrodisiac (AdHouse Books), the powered-up pimp who guest-starred in Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s terrific Street Angel mini-series (SLG). Fortunately, Rugg and Maruca are smart enough to keep their creation in sketch contents, assembling an amusing “best of” volume of adventures that satirize both blaxploitation and, to a lesser extent, the ups and downs of a super-hero franchise. Afrodisiac pays homage to the marginally distasteful, fad-driven characters that publishers like Marvel created over the years, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, taking him just far enough beyond his predecessors to make the joke worth telling. The formula is basic – the unflappable, irresistible flesh peddler keeps his neighborhood and stable safe from the schemes of stupid, greedy white guys like Dracula and Richard Nixon. Those stories are fun, but I liked the random covers even better. They suggest a publisher trying to build a character franchise by any means available, wedging him into crossovers, true-romance comics, and even a Marvel Knights-style revamp. Afrodisiac isn’t ambitious in its satire, but it’s smartly presented and consistently amusing. It’s just right for its aims and given its raw materials.

Miku Sakamoto’s Stolen Hearts is another worthy entry in CMX’s roster of amiable, endearing shôjo manga, and it has three elements in particular that work in its favor. First, it’s about maintaining an established relationship, which I always like. Sunny, short Shinobu and scowling, tall Koguma get their romantic act together fairly quickly, allowing Sakamoto to spend the rest of the volume cementing their bond. They work together in Koguma’s grandmother’s kimono shop, which covers the other two aspects. I like the detail Sakamoto expends on kimono culture. I’m partial to books that focus on a specific activity or enterprise, as it adds an extra layer of interest to the proceedings. Last but not least is Grandma, who falls into that category of funny, formidable senior citizens that I enjoy so much. Grandma’s product maybe old-fashioned, but her business practices are aggressively modern. Her marketing schemes set the stage for profits and push the romance forward.

Now, on to the rest, though that hardly seems like a fitting phrase for the range and appeal of the items I haven’t yet read.

I’m not quite ready for the fifth volume of the breathtakingly beautiful, not-always-entirely-coherent Bride of the Water God (Dark Horse), written and illustrated by Mi-Kyung Yun, but I’ll certainly catch up at some point. This is one of those titles that’s best read in the bathtub with a glass of wine close to hand, possibly sparkling. I’m glad to see that Dark Horse is sticking with this series, as it gives me hope that the rumored solicitations for new volumes of Kazuhiro Okamoto’s Translucent will someday result in me being able to purchase new volumes of Kazuhiro Okamoto’s Translucent.

Last Gasp concludes its admirable effort to release Keiji Nakazawa’s deservedly legendary Barefoot Gen. The ninth and tenth volumes arrive Wednesday. What more do I need to say?

You’ll probably need to lighten the mood a bit after that, so how about a little super-dense comedy about a suicidal schoolteacher? Yes, it’s time for another volume of Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Del Rey). This installment promises a visit to a hot spring, and I can only imagine what bizarre tangents such an excursion will yield. I also really like the color palette for this cover. It suggests both delicate gentility and decay. This series was among my favorite debuts of 2009.

So was Karuho Shina’s Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (Viz), a delightfully off-kilter shôjo title. Thinking about the subject of yesterday’s Flipped column, it occurs to me that this book is a delightful subversion of the peasant-prince model. The heroine of this book is so socially disadvantaged that she doesn’t even realize that the boy of her dreams is probably already in love with her. But I’m confident that she’ll catch on in time, and then I will cry and giggle in equal measure.

And if you’re curious about this week’s debuts from Tokyopop, tangognat has you covered with reviews of Alice in the Country of Hearts and Portrait of M and N.

He’s just not that into you

January 25, 2010

Dude… harsh. That’s Naoki Irie from Kaoru Tada’s Itazura Na Kiss (Digital Manga), which just happens to be the subject of this week’s Flipped. It’s a very enjoyable comic in its own right, and I think it’s interesting to consider it in context, particularly when that context is inspired by Shaenon K. Garrity.

Announcing the Manga Moveable Feast

January 23, 2010

Inspired by The Hooded Utilitarian’s roundtable on CLAMP’s xxxHoLic (Del Rey), a bunch of people who talk about manga on Twitter though it might be fun to do what Matt Blind suggested we call a “Manga Moveable Feast,” where a bunch of bloggers write about a single title over the course of a week. For the inauguration of this experiment, we’ve settled on Iou Kuroda’s Sexy Voice and Robo (Viz), and we’ve set it for the week of Feb. 8.

Here’s how it will work this time around: I’ll track all of the individual posts over the course of the week, posting daily updates on who’s written what. You can focus on a specific aspect of the title, write a general review, or simply repost a review you’ve already written. I’d also be happy to host pieces if the writer would prefer.

At the end of the week, we’ll set up a chat session at Manga Views for anyone who wants to discuss the book further to add a book-club aspect to the project. (We considered doing this on Twitter, but the character limit and scrolling seemed unfriendly to fostering a conversational quality.) We’ve tentatively selected Kaoru Mori’s Emma (CMX) for the second round, though we haven’t set a date and another blogger will host and ring-lead that effort.

So if you’re interested in participating, drop me an email at davidpwelsh at yahoo dot com, and we can work out all of the details.

License request day: Manga Taishou nominees

January 22, 2010

Gia (Anime Vice) Manry recently shared this year’s nominees for the Manga Taishou Awards, a new-ish but well-regarded program. For this week’s license request, I’ll just point out the three that sound most interesting to me. These choices are admittedly based on very little evidence, but they look and sound desirable, at least superficially.

Otoko no Isshou, written and illustrated by Keiko Niishi, Shogakukan, flowers, two volumes available so far. Nishi’s work was included in Viz’s Four Shôjo Stories, and they published Promise in 1994 and Love Song, a collection of her short stories, in 1998, so any work by her is a lock. Since I’m on the subject, it would be really lovely for Viz to put Four Shôjo Stories back in print.

Thermae Romae, written and illustrated by Mari Yamazaki, Enterbrain, Comic Beam, one volume available so far. I should probably start a category dedicated entirely to how much I love comics that were originally serialized in Comic Beam, which sounds like a wonderfully idiosyncratic magazine to me.

Mushi to Uta, written and illustrated by Haruko Ichikawa, Kodansha, Afternoon, one volume total. I like collections of short stories, and the cover is really lovely. That’s all I’ve got, but that seems like it’s enough. Also, I keep fixating on manga originally serialized in Morning and Morning 2, so I felt like I should throw some love to Afternoon. Update: Jog has some absolutely gorgeous samples of Ichikawa’s work in this post.

Standards and practices

January 21, 2010

I’ve been enjoying the xxxHoLic roundtable at The Hooded Utilitarian, and I have to confess that most of that enjoyment comes from the back-and-forth about critical standards that has blossomed in the comments of various posts. I quoted Ng Suat Tong yesterday, and I’ll do so again:

“For some reason, I’ve found that western readers seem to be far kinder to commercial dreck from the shores of Japan, lacing their reviews with only the mildest of reservations. Is this representative of a certain indifference to the qualities of commercial manga or is there some sort of cultural forbearance and variation in standards at work here?”

And add a bit of an expansion from the comments here:

“It’s something which I notice in manga reviews throughout the web (there are exceptions of course). It may have to do with the thrill of the “new” or it might just be that manga reviewers in general are just ‘nice’ people…”

If you’re me, all roads eventually lead to Sondheim, and I can’t help but hear the derisive purr of Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods… “You’re so nice… You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”

Now, if you suspect that I’m going to launch into some defense of online manga criticism and decry these observations, let me hasten to assure you that I’m not. In fact, I’m going to cop to their accuracy, at least as they pertain to me. It’s not just comics from Japan, though. It has more to do with context and creator intent.

Not too long ago, there was some discussion on Twitter of tips for manga bloggers, and I remember the development of a consistent rating system (numerical, alphabetical, stars, what have you) coming up in conversation. I don’t use that kind of system due to a combination of laziness and, I frankly admit, inconsistent critical standards. What I almost always try to convey when reviewing a book is how much I enjoyed it, which I know is not a particularly rigorous or ambitious approach to criticism. But when it comes to comics, enjoyment my first priority as a consumer, so it makes sense to me that it’s also my first priority as a reviewer.

It’s entirely possible that, if I had a one-to-five-stars rating system, five being the highest, I could give both Red Snow and Kimi ni Todoke five stars. Should you conclude from that that I think that these books are equal in quality in terms of the pure mechanics of their creation, their respective levels of artistic ambition, and their impact on the medium? I hope not, and I hope (really, really fervently) that the reasons I enjoy a given book are sufficiently evident that people who read my reviews can tell the difference between the reasons behind an enthusiastic evaluation of Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu and an exuberant review of The Lapis Lazuli Crown, or for Asterios Polyp, or for Underground.

A lot of comics are created with the simple intent to entertain, and I think that’s fabulous. It’s one of the reasons that I read so much manga – it’s a functional, diverse entertainment industry that allows me to cherry pick the kind of stories and styles I enjoy and that provide the kind of enjoyment I seek when I pick up a comic. And since it’s a large enough industry, I can also enjoy comics created with less of an obviously commercial or populist intent, books that were conceived and executed with ambition and daring. But for me, it’s important to accept books from the various ends of the commercial spectrum on their own terms. Some comics are conceived in hopes of taking their places among fine works of literature, and some are created to help you pass the time while you’re riding the train. And this is true of comics industries all over the world. Even individual creators can move along that spectrum, and to me, those are the most exciting creators of all. There are those creators who, no matter how disposable and commercial the venue for their work is, demonstrate remarkable ambition and craft.

Should I apply equal levels of critical rigor to every book I review? I don’t really feel any obligation to do so, to be totally honest. For one thing, that’s not really why I got into blogging. Aside from the fact that it’s just a hobby, my desire to blog stems from a general enthusiasm for comics, an enthusiasm for writing and conversing about them, and a desire to identify the ones that give me pleasure as a reader and to find others that might yield the same results. I certainly admire critics who apply that level of effort to everything they write, and I’m hardly averse to trying to engage a challenging work on its own ambitious terms, but that’s never been my default setting.

Just one more link

January 20, 2010

The American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association has posted its 2010 list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens which, as you know, is something of an obsession of mine. Here are the Top 10.

Update: Just because I’m curious about these sorts of things, I broke down listings by publisher to see who got how many. Marvel scored the largest number of listings, divided about equally between their super-hero properties and their comics adaptations of other works of fiction. Viz came in second in terms of the number of recognized titles and actually had the largest number of books, by which I mean that multiple volumes of individual titles earned spaces on the list. If you add up all of its individual imprints, DC ranked next with seven titles and the same number of books, with three coming from its super-hero line and the remainder coming from imprints.

Marvel – 10 titles, 10 books, 1 title in the Top 10
Viz Media – 9 titles, 15 books, 3 titles in the Top 10
Del Rey – 5 titles, 5 books
First Second – 4 titles, 6 books
Tokyopop – 4 titles, 5 books
Dark Horse – 4 titles, 4 books, 1 title in the Top 10
Yen Press – 3 titles, 5 books
DC Comics – 3 titles, 3 books
Cinebook – 2 titles, 3 books
IDW – 2 titles, 3 books
Candlewick – 2 titles, 2 books
DC/Vertigo – 2 titles, 2 books
Hill and Wang – 2 titles, 2 books
Oni Press – 2 titles, 2 books
Archaia Studios Press – 1 title, 1 book, 1 title in the Top 10
Bloomsbury – 1 title, 1 book
Bodega Distribution – 1 title, 1 book
BOOM! Studios – 1 title, 1 book
Classical Comics Ltd. – 1 title, 1 book
DC/CMX – 1 title, 1 book
DC/Zuda – 1 title, 1 book, 1 title in the Top 10
Disney Press – 1 title, 1 book
DMP – 1 title, 1 book
HarperCollins – 1 title, 1 book
Henry Holt – 1 title, 1 book
Image – 1 title, 1 book, 1 Top 10
Image/Shadowline – 1 title, 1 book
Pantheon Books – 1 title, 1 book, 1 title in the Top 10
Quirk Books – 1 title, 1 book
Simon & Schuster/Aladdin – 1 title, 1 book
SLG Publishing – 1 title, 1 book, 1 title in the Top 10
Top Shelf – 1 title, 1 book
Walker and Company – 1 title, 1 book